How to build simple machines for a school project

Written by amanda flocke
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How to build simple machines for a school project
Skaters use ramps, which are inclined planes. (skateboard ramp image by asmik from Fotolia.com)

According to Franz Reuleaux's "The Kinematics of Machinery: Outlines of a Theory of Machines," Hero of Alexandria first formally defined simple machines in A.D. 62. Today the venerable inclined plane, wedge, lever, wheel and axle, pulley, and screw are the basis of primary school mechanics lessons. Building your own examples of simple machines with easy-to-find school supplies is the best way to learn how each one works.

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Inclined Plane

An inclined plane reduces the amount of force needed to raise an object by lengthening the distance it must travel. The best example of an inclined plane is a basic ramp. You can easily construct this type of machine by leaning a spiral notebook against a stack of three hardcover textbooks. Roll pencils and crayons down your inclined plane to demonstrate how it works.

How to build simple machines for a school project
Skaters use ramps, which are inclined planes. (skateboard ramp image by asmik from Fotolia.com)

Wedge

The wedge is an inclined plane that moves. A wedge works by converting a diffused force applied to its large end to a concentrated force on its small end, or vice versa. Examples include axes, shims, and nails. A simple example of a wedge is a sharpened pencil. Demonstrate your wedge by punching holes in a piece of construction paper.

How to build simple machines for a school project
An axe is one example of a wedge. (steel axe and wood image by Tomo Jesenicnik from Fotolia.com)

Lever

The lever makes moving objects easier by rotating the load around a pivot, called a fulcrum. A hammer's claw, seesaws, and scissors are examples levers. Make your own lever by taping a thick marker to your desk. Center a flat ruler on the marker to complete the machine. Use your lever to lift a textbook and other heavy classroom items.

How to build simple machines for a school project
Seesaws are levers. (mother with son faces. November 2 image by Pavel Losevsky from Fotolia.com)

Wheel and Axle

Simple machines that consist of two circular components which rotate together are known as the wheel and axle. This machine works by increasing the force applied to the larger wheel, then transferring it to the smaller axle. Examples of the wheel and axle are door knobs, bicycle tires, and steering wheels. Make a simple wheel and axle assembly by first pulling the erasers out of two pencils. Insert a straightened paper clip to the centre of each eraser. Roll your eraser wheels and paper clip axle around your desk to demonstrate how it works.

How to build simple machines for a school project
A doorknob is an example of a wheel and an axle. (door knob image by Michael Shake from Fotolia.com)

Pulley

A pulley is a wheel and a rope or chain that make lifting a load easier. The pulley works by changing the direction of the force needed to move an object. Common examples of pulleys are cranes, electric fans, and flag pole mechanisms. Make your own pulley with a pen, tape, a desk, and a shoelace. Tape a pen to your desk so that half of it extends over the edge. This will serve as your pulley's wheel. Drape a shoelace over the extended portion of the pen. Demonstrate your pulley by tying one end of the shoelace to a spiral notebook, and raising it by pulling on the other end of the lace.

How to build simple machines for a school project
Cranes use pulleys to lift heavy loads. (crane image by Deborah Durbin from Fotolia.com)

Screw

Screws are simply inclined planes wrapped around a cylinder. Examples include wood screws, drill bits, and jar lids. Use an old spiral notebook to make a screw. Remove the covers and any remaining pages from the notebook. Push one end of the spiral wire through a piece of paper. Twist the opposite end until the spiral makes its way through the paper.

How to build simple machines for a school project
Drill bits are screws. (5 drill bit set image by Horticulture from Fotolia.com)

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